Classic Hip-Hop anniversaries are usually somber. The date, March 9, 1997, specifically, will always be engrained in fans' minds as the day when The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in Los Angeles. Other more positive-minded anniversaries usually pop up on Instagram at random because the culture hasn't made it a point to build up these days as vitality important as DJ Kool Herc's rec room party on August 12, 1973. At our core, Rock The Bells is here to change all that.
November 9, 1993 could have been any other day if it wasn't for Hip-Hop. The front page of The New York Times focused on international incidents involving Haiti and Russia. On the domestic front, President Clinton's stance on organized labor was being challenged.
While it's unsurprising that the Grey Lady chose to focus on those particular topics — instead of say the happenings in the world of music — it is quite mind-blowing that both the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders were released on the same day.
November 9, 1993 showed millions of Hip-Hop fans that debuts could mature into classics, and that a group who already enjoyed success could continue to get even better.
Many people's ideas of classic Hip-Hop are attributed to both releases. Everything from the Carhartt work clothes, to the Timberlands, to the pan-African colors, are all represented in both the lyrics and visuals of both projects.
1993 was a time of reckoning. It was a post-Rodney King world where Officers Koon and Powell were convicted of violating King’s civil rights, and Officers Briseno and Wind were acquitted of their role in the videotaped beating.
Dr. Dre's The Chronic was in part a response to the riots that erupted after the videotape emerged. Over the 12 months of 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, Salt-N-Pepa and more than 20 other Hip-Hop groups released albums that helped change the sound of America.
The Significance of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
In Wu-Tang's infancy, RZA collected $100 from each member to put out its debut single, "Protect Ya Neck." Selling copies from the trunks of cars, the group traveled from Virginia to Ohio, promoting itself to radio programmers. When ''Protect Ya Neck'' — based upon a sample of The J.B.’s “The Grunt” — turned into a regional hit, the same labels that had rejected the group, came calling.
Wu-Tang eventually settled on Loud Records, an unproven independent company distributed by RCA. RZA also took the unusual step of encouraging other members of the group to sign solo deals on different labels. Labels like RCA and Geffen were either lukewarm in the space — or in the case of Geffen — lacked a "Black-Music Department" completely.
Wu-Tang wasn't like other popular groups of the era in NYC like A Tribe Called Quest or Gang Starr who seemed to craft songs that had a certain smoothness to both the lyrics and production. Wu-Tang, on the other hand, seemed to embrace the chaos of the action sequences in the Kung-Fu flicks that had inspired RZA. In an era where rap was a commodity, Wu-Tang was loudly rejecting that ethos. This was Hip-Hop for people who put their hoodie up even if their hair was still wet.
People have analyzed the contents of 36 Chambers to the nth degree in an attempt to find hidden meaning. That's perhaps the ultimate indication that a body of work transcends record sales. The group created something powerful that warranted criticism in the vein of books like The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, and Native Son by Richard Wright.
The Significance of Midnight Marauders
There was no sophomore slump for A Tribe Called Quest. The Low End Theory built upon the success of their debut, and turned them into a group that spawned dozens of others who saw Hip-Hop as a chance to explore themes beyond what had already been presented on the West Coast.
Phife Dawg came into his own on Low End, and only continued to strengthen his voice along the charismatic Q-Tip. It's hard to consistently play second fiddle, so Phife's ability to take a solo song like "8 Million Stories" proved that there was no weak spot in the group.
There was no shortage of sampling on Low End Theory. However, Midnight Marauders seemed to elevate the art of sampling to new heights. Minnie Riperton’s “Whistle Register” (“Lyrics To Go”) Rodney Cee from Wild Style (“Sucka N---a”) and Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew" ("Electric Relaxation") were all revelations. Preemo had his chops, and Q-Tip, Ali Shaheem Muhammad, and Large Professor had their unique blend of both the familiar and the obscure which turned into the universally lauded "Tribe Sound."
One can't help but notice how Tip's work with Large Professor — edging a tad closer to the NYC "Boom Bap" sound of people like like Pete Rock, Diamond D,Lord Finesse, and DJ Premier — ultimately informed how he contributed to Nas' Illmatic a year later. While most with tout Tip for his skills as an MC, his contributions as a producer in a post Midnight Marauders world can't be overstated (Nas, Mobb Deep, The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Cypress Hill).
If you're true Hip-Hop head, November 9 should be a holiday. Bump both of these albums with pride.